High Rates of Return to Play and Patient Satisfaction after ACL Reconstruction

ACL Recon for O'Buzz.jpegThe estimated annual cost of surgical treatment for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures in the US is $2 billion. Are ACL surgery patients—and the health care system—getting significant value for all that money spent?

In the May 3, 2017 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Nwachukwu et al. set out to answer that question by retrospectively analyzing rates of return to play and satisfaction among 231 ACL-surgery patients (mean age of 27 years) who were followed for a mean of 3.7 years. The authors found that:

  • 87% had returned to play at a mean of 10 months after surgery.
  • 89% of the 171 athletes eligible to return to their prior level of competition did so.
  • 85% said they were “very satisfied” with the outcome, and 98% stated they would have the surgery again.

Not surprisingly, patients were more likely to say they were “very satisfied” if they had returned to play.

The authors also found that the use of patellar tendon autograft increased the chance of returning to play, while preoperative participation in soccer or lacrosse decreased the likelihood of returning to play. Those who participated in basketball, football, skiing, and tennis had higher return-to-play rates than those who participated in the two aforementioned sports.

In addition, Nwachukwu et al. found that one-third of those who did not return to sports reported fear of reinjury as the reason. The authors encourage surgeons to understand that “psychological readiness, fear of reinjury, and mental resiliency influence the probability of an athlete returning to play.”

In her commentary, Elizabeth Matzkin, MD cautions readers to interpret the Level IV study’s findings cautiously. She calls for “better prospective, homogeneous studies” to more accurately assess which surgical graft types and specific sports are more or less likely to result in patients returning to play. Nevertheless, the study, she says, “forces us to look at the big picture: What can we do to make ACL [reconstruction] better for our patients?”

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